Leading university music department faces 25 percent cut amid pressure to be more ‘integrated’

23 June 2021, 13:11 | Updated: 23 June 2021, 14:27

Top university music department faces cuts amid ‘academic realignment’
Top university music department faces cuts amid ‘academic realignment’. Picture: Getty

By Rosie Pentreath

Royal Holloway’s music department is facing 25 per cent cuts to staff and research provisions following proposals that its curriculum should be ‘more integrated’ and ‘broader’.

A top London university is looking down the barrel of a nearly 25 percent cut to its Music department, as it goes through an ‘academic realignment’.

According to its staff, the prestigious Music department of Royal Holloway has been informed of plans to significantly reduce its tutoring staff and research provisions, due to “a forecasted loss of college overall income across the next ten years”.

The department has apparently been targeted because the curriculum “should be more ‘integrated’ and ‘broader’” – and because “the staff-student ratio is claimed to be low compared to sector averages”.

“We contest these proposals in the strongest possible terms,” the Music department staff write in a statement sent to Classic FM. They claim that internal university management failed to disclose a methodology for calculating the staff-student ratios cited, and gave no evidence that the music department runs at a loss for the university.

The statement outlines that the department currently has an intake of over 280 students, 20 percent of them studying joint honours, which “fosters a vibrant atmosphere of interdisciplinarity.”

It goes on to say that the department is “addressing concerns about inclusivity through an innovative entry route for students who have not taken A-level Music.”

The statement says application numbers are rising, while intake of students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds is growing as a result: to 33 percent this year.

“We are at the forefront of efforts to decolonise our discipline, and our modules on Music, Environment and Ecology show our established work addressing the climate emergency,” the department says.

Read more: Royal Academy of Music to ‘decolonise' collection as composer linked to slave trade

“The proposals to Academic Board only make sense if it sets a precedent for forcing what is now being called ‘culture change’ at Royal Holloway, and cutting academic staffing and reducing commitment to an academic discipline,” the RHUL-UCU Branch Committee writes in a blog.

The university has expressed its commitment to consulting with staff and unions following the announcement of the academic realignment, and has said “the change to overall numbers can be achieved through voluntary means, for example by not recruiting to vacant posts.”

Principal Professor Paul Layzell writes, “We are committed to the broad subject mix on offer at Royal Holloway and the proposal to reduce academic staff numbers at all, in any discipline, is not one made lightly. Consideration has been given throughout in order to minimise, as far as possible, any impact on staff and students.

“Where academic staff reductions are proposed, I mentioned that those disciplines are reviewing course content, design and delivery. Within the next three years, the ambition is that they will launch new courses that reflect contemporary developments within their disciplines.”

The news of cuts come amid an ongoing cultural conversation around breaking down tradition and colonial roots in academia, following the growth in global conversations around race inequality and Black Lives Matter, reignited by the death of George Floyd in May 2020.

Read more: Oxford University professor suggests ‘decolonising’ music syllabus to make it less ‘white European’

The Music department isn’t the only one being scrutinised. There are also proposed cuts to Drama, Theatre and Dance; Earth Sciences; The School of Humanities; Mathematics and Social Work – all part of the university’s 3-Year Strategic Plan, announced in October 2020 to be implemented in the period up to 2023.

Royal Holloway is currently ranked 6th for Music in the UK, according to The Complete University Guide.